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24:7 Theatre Festival

Nicola Mostyn talks to co-founder David Slack about this week of one hour plays in non-theatre venues

Published on July 21st 2008.

24:7 Theatre Festival

At last year’s 24:7, waiting in Pure in The Printworks for the next play to begin, I felt, to use a cliché, a buzz in the air. This was not the sedate, respectful, occasionally self-satisfied atmosphere of regular theatregoing. It was dynamic, exciting and fun.

One of the rules of the 24:7 festival is that the amount of plays performed depend on the standard of scripts submitted. Last year this was 21. This year 16 made the grade.

“That was one of our objectives,” says David Slack, Festival co-director and co-founder, along with Amanda Hennessy. “When you go to any event,” he continues, “what you are left with is a general feeling and a couple of images in you head. You describe the scene, you probably won’t remember the actual words. So we hope that the atmosphere takes over.”

Several aspects combine to create this particular dynamic; the non-theatre venues, including The Midland Hotel, Pure and – new this year – Zavvi entertainment retailer in the Arndale - attract an atypical crowd. The £6 per play admission is pretty inclusive too. The open invitation to actors, writers, directors and techies to get involved brings along their friends and family who, once installed out of obligation, soon get caught up in the 24:7 buzz and stay out of enthusiasm. Having the plays on rotation at four venues through seven days gives the festival great momentum. And then there are the plays themselves, each year a batch of no more than 24 pieces of new writing, each year containing some absolute gems.

It seems a perfect balancing act, but the Festival grew this way, rather than being the result of a masterplan.

“Frustration made it happen,” David says. “Me and Amanda were in drama school together, at Arden, and we graduated to a scene where there was hardly any expectation of getting any work. The restrictions were a bit frustrating. So I wrote a plan for an event in Manchester. In principle I thought it was not too difficult: find a non-theatre space, find some plays, find an audience. It actually took us about a year and a half to get the first 24:7 Festival going in 2004.”

Perhaps inspired by David’s post-grad days in profit share (“or loss share”) theatre productions, the 24:7 approach is very much one of co-operation and volunteering. Writers are invited to send their scripts and actors are invited to submit their CVs, in return for the experience and exposure. The same goes for directors, ushers, technicians and anyone else included in the 200+ people who will help the festival happen this year. It would be impossible, David says, to pay everyone for what they do. “We have one figure for cash, and if you add in the goodwill then it goes off the scale. And that’s what makes it work.”

While success may not have been instant (“we lost money the first year. And the second”) the festival has made an amazing impact in the region in the five years it has been running. Last year Bolton Octagon and the Library Theatre adopted some of the best 24:7 plays into their own programmes, an endorsement of Slack and Hennessy’s efforts and a unrivalled opportunity for the participants to have their work appear in an established theatre. David plans to build on this.

The Impossibilty Club

“We are hoping to take a showcase to London to show to literary agents, production promoters etc. My hope is that at some stage our event will be in the diary of people in London, so that they can come and have a look, picking up the talent when they can. And give greater exposure to the work, because there is a lot of talent.”

One of the rules of the 24:7 festival is that the amount of plays performed depend on the standard of scripts submitted. Last year this was 21. This year 16 made the grade. It’s an assurance of quality which secures the reputation of the festival and promises a good crop of new writing in what looks to be a great programme.

This year Watching Stars by Kate Gilbert features Nick Mason, an actor from Fink On theatre company, and explores the fallout of a one-night-stand. In ContreCoup, Ross Andrews (who wrote last year’s wonderful social comedy Eating Out) depicts one man’s struggle to care for his wife following a road accident. And in Fourteen, about a child with an imaginary friend, David himself appears as “a social worker called Jeff with a ’70s attitude.”

The writer of last year’s 24:7 hit The Lullaby Witch, Mark Griffiths, returns with a story about super-human powers in The Impossibility Club while Ways to Look at Fish, by Colette Kane, deals with a fragmented family who find themselves united when their very different beliefs are challenged.

Add to this stories about runaways brides, men looking for new lives, love defined through glitter and glue, a chance meeting in a chip shop and a granny who just won’t die and you have a week of varied, winning entertainment ahead.

I remind David of my observation on last year’s festival – that my initial bemusement that they didn’t extend it to two weeks so that people could watch them all gave way to an understanding that it is this fast-paced, catch-them-while-you can approach which makes 24:7 a unique and really enjoyable experience.

“It’s this whole thing to do with taking away the feeling and the image,” he agrees. “When we were at Arden, we did this session on the origins of theatre – actors were classed as rogues and vagabonds, they’d do a show and get an audience and get fed and then hopefully move on somewhere else,” he says. “And afterwards, all you are left with is that feeling.”

24:7 Theatre Festival, Mon 21 July to Sun 27 July. Plays at 12.30pm, 6pm, 7.30pm and 9pm, plus 2pm and 3.30pm Sat and Sun. www.247theatrefestival.co.uk/ Tickets, £6, 0161 236 7110.

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